According to one source, there are 477 million Internet users in China. In addition, there may be as many as 185 million bloggers and microbloggers among them, a portion of which are fomenting dissent and organizing political protest against the one-party state. So skeptics may be forgiven for thinking that China’s growth isn’t sustainable. Wealth disparity, flaws in the political system, voices crying out for freedom of expression: all of these pose pressure on the social fabric of the nation, threatening its stability.
Further, China’s Vice-Premier and Minister of Finance recently announced that Beijing predicts a “lasting world recession” that could, next year, see China post its first trade deficit in a generation. If China were to bail Europe out of the sovereign-debt crisis, its citizens, a majority of whom are poor, might understandably revolt. Amid all of these signs, China could slow down or collapse internally from missteps or a piece of bad luck.
But the United States isn’t counting on it. Last week President Obama announced that the U.S. military would station 2,500 troops in Darwin, Australia, a location that holds symbolic value for having been a crucial outpost of American strength during World War II. Unlike U.S. bases in South Korea and Japan, Darwin is out of the range of Chinese missiles: it offers a haven in which the U.S. can stockpile equipment and hold resources.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) seems to welcome the move. Even nations like Singapore, which boasts strong relations with China, would have an interest in maintaining a balance of power that will restrain China’s want for resources in the region. The Philippines is nervous about the contentiousness of Beijing, which has been firmly claiming rights to what has traditionally been the Filipino part of the South China Sea.
Happily, the Asia-Pacific region holds a large bounty for the United States. Shortly after Obama’s announcement, which constituted a major shift in foreign policy, Indonesia announced the purchase of Boeing jets and F-16 fighter planes. Perhaps it was a gesture that indicates the quid-pro-quo nature of this strategic pivot. Perhaps it was another symbolic expression of strength.
Whether or not the U.S. has any bite left beyond its bark is another story. If China were to declare war on a country that the U.S. is treaty-bound to defend, would Washington have any money left to defend it? They could sell war bonds, but who would buy these bonds, if not China?